With the following restrictions: Preferred Lies
Last updated: 16.04.2014 08:02
Our history really began in late 1938 following the closure of local golf club, Blacon Point. A member of that club, William Ellison Richardson, encouraged by fellow member's support decided to purchase and build a new course in the Chester area. After much searching Bill Richardson purchased one half of Tom Parker's Farm – 91 acres of undulating pasture and cereals land, complete with a farmhouse and several barns, near to Littleton Village.
Eric Parr, the former Blacon Point Professional, moved into the farmhouse for Christmas 1938 as Manager and later as Professional with his wife Hilda as club manageress/caterer.
As soon as the weather permitted in February 1939 Eric Parr, helped by a relative, Cyril Hughes, the Professional at Royal Liverpool (and one bulldozer) designed and laid out the first eleven holes. The course was officially opened just 3 months later, when our first Captain, William Parry, drove into office on 20th May 1939. Bill Richardson named his club "Vicars Cross" after a nearby Chester district. He had visions that the club would become a "Golf and Country Club". Building on the clubhouse started in 1940 and completed in 1941 was designed to take two additional floors (hence the two pillars in the existing lounge area). Of course, the war wrecked all these plans and the clubhouse remains a single storey building.
Any further development was sharply curtailed midway through 1941 when the "Dig for Victory" war effort took over the land for agriculture, mostly under the plough for cereal.
Lever Brothers Advertising and Art Department moved into the clubhouse away from the London blitz in 1942, giving way in turn 18 months later to a detachment of 100 American soldiers, who used the main lounge as a dormitory – half a dozen coke stoves arranged in a line down the centre kept them warm in the cold winter months. They eventually left for France in 1944, on a top secret mission, which was later known to be "The D-Day Invasion".
Throughout the war years a small closely-knit band of regulars used the farmhouse as their local, even though a bomb fall into the middle of the 9th fairway blew out the windows one night! The only other incident was three bombs falling on the corner of the 17th killed farmer Hughes's best cow and blew soil onto the fairway.
Peace finally came and Eric Parr once more set about converting the land back into a golf course, making a start on the greens in December 1945. Grass seed sown into the following year's final barley crop considerably speeded-up fairway construction, although what little top-soil there had been was now buried beneath the clay surface.
The Ladies Section was officially formed in November 1946. The course was re-opened in March 1947 by Club Captain, Arthur Jones. Mr Tom Sarl-Williams became the first Club President , a post he held with dedication and generosity for 35 years. In fact the first handbook for the Club issued for the 1947 season was provided for the members as a gift from The President.
Owing to continuing ill-health, Bill Richardson decided to sell the club in 1952. He offered the entire land and buildings to the membership on exceedingly generous terms of £18,000. Vicars Cross Golf Club Limited, now wholly owned by its members, received a Certificate of Incorporation on 7th July 1952. Seven days later, the first Board of Directors Meeting under the chairmanship of William Parry, duly imprinted the Club Seal as their first recorded minutes.
Some famous names in the golfing world played Vicars Cross on Sunday 26th July 1953, when we hosted a Grand Exhibition Match, one of a series around the country raising funds for "The Forces Aid Society" and "Lord Roberts Workshops". In the fourball match Alf Padgham (Open Champion 1936) and Harry Weetman (Matchplay Champion 1951) played Bobby Locke (Open Champion 1949, 1950 and 1952) and Alf Lovelady (Vicars Cross). Alf had just been appointed Club Professional in the February on Eric Parr's retirement. He and his illustrious partner narrowly lost their match before a gallery of 1,500 visitors paying a 2/6d entrance fee and 175 car park fees on the day. John Richardson said that he remembers that sheets were placed on the 18th green at the end of the match onto which visitors threw coins in aid of the charity. The total remuneration for the professionals was just £120.
A recurring theme of the 1950's (and for the next 50 years) was a shortage of cash for projects. Efforts to raise money varied from grazing sheep on the course during the winter months to growing oats on the extremities of the course. Part of the then 18th hole (now a part of the practice area) and a section of the barn were let to the Chester Archery Club: you had to keep your wits about you in those days.
Gradually after a decade of financial worry the tide turned and the club started on a period of improvement. The photograph below shows the Clubhouse and Buildings in 1962.
Many of us can well remember the building on the left, which was a green-painted barn that served as professional's shop and change-rooms for over 30 years. Immediately to the right of this building is the still existing barn used for storage and with the far end converted to a flat. Dominating the clubhouse is the old farmhouse for which special permission had to be obtained to knock it down in 1966; this area now accommodates the new changing rooms and staff accommodation.
During this period, the "swinging 60's and 70's" personal finances were also starting to improve and this was reflected in the support of club socials. Often club events were over-subscribed. On the course there was a more formal approach to "course management", although funds were still in short supply. One of key areas of improvement at this time was the drainage of the fairways. Arthur Nickells, who had been appointed as Head Greenkeeper and Professional in March 1955, worked long hours in fulfilling this role, with limited assistance until his retirement in June 1989.
Work also started towards the end of the 70's on defining holes better by tree-planting in copses – efforts in this respect continued and eventually led to the tree-lined fairways that we have today. A pop-up sprinkler system was introduced during the drought of 1976.
Following various studies and some heated discussions in the early 80's on how to lengthen the course, it was eventually agreed to purchase an additional 16 acres of land in 1987, bringing the total area to 107 acres. The course layout that we have today was officially opened for play in May 1990.
Open the new course. In a match to mark the occasion Bill was the only person to play off the white tees and recorded the new course record of 91, which stood for 1 day.
Following several periods of heavy rainfall in the early nineties and the regular release of drainage-water from the newly constructed motorway, there was serious course flooding. The decision was made to re-open or re-route and enlarge the ditches that had been culverted in the previous 15 years. This would form the basis for future drainage projects.
Changes were also made to the clubhouse in 1997/8 by the addition of a very popular conservatory area at the front of the clubhouse. The snooker table was moved to enable a comfortable spike-bar to be constructed and the dining room/main room were redecorated.
What used to be part of 16th hole, the 17th and 18th fairway was now a large practice area. This area was later developed as a driving-range for members, having 5 covered bays and one teaching bay for the Professional and was opened in April 2000. The smaller practice area has been developed to include 2 greens for members to practice chipping and bunker play.
No doubt, the biggest project that the club has undertaken has been the re-construction of the greens to USGA standards. All the greens have now been reconstructed. Players have already enjoyed the benefits, particularly through wet periods, where the superior construction has meant that these greens rarely flood and even after the severest downpours recover quickly.
Thanks to the vision of our founder, Bill Richardson, and to the hard work of many members and employees over the years, the future looks rosy. Continuing investment will improve the playing conditions throughout the year and ensure that the course offers enjoyment and challenge to players of all abilities. Our practice facilities are regarded as the best in the area and the clubhouse offers excellent cuisine in a friendly atmosphere.
Members and guests wish to read a more detailed account of the club's history will find the archives in the bookcase by the bar.